From the Court to the Classroom: Dr. Jasmine Cohen-Young’s journey to the College of Social Work

As Dr. Jasmine Cohen-Young finishes up her time with the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW), a journey that started with a basketball and a hoop culminates in a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW).

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – As Dr. Jasmine Cohen-Young finishes up her time with the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW), a journey that started with a basketball and a hoop culminates in a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW).

A student-athlete at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Cohen-Young grew up playing basketball and had many influential figures in her athletic career, including Rose Richmond, Cohen-Young’s aunt and track & field athlete at Indiana University (2000-2003) and Olympian, as well as Troy and Darren Hambrick, her cousins and former members of the Dallas Cowboys.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rollins College, Cohen-Young pursued a Master of Social Work from the University of Central Florida. Becoming a clinically licensed social worker with experience in the collegiate athletic culture led Cohen-Young to begin asking questions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and that’s when her jump into sport social work began.

“During Covid, I saw the impact of the student-athletes’ seasons ending so suddenly. Specifically in women’s basketball, I saw teams who were so close to winning a National Championship and then the season just had to stop,” Cohen-Young said. “I asked myself ‘How can I help? What can I do to help these athletes and get involved?’ I did some research and realized that sport social work was a thing and I wanted to be a part of it.”

The first step into this relatively new space of sport social work was the creation of Cohen-Young’s nonprofit, Mindz Matter Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit that aims to provide mental health education and resources through community efforts to youth athletes and youth sports organizations, primarily in underserved communities.

Sport social workers don’t just focus on sports performance, they also focus on the entire person and go beyond just sports, combining the science of the practice and the art of the practice. Sport social workers are trained to find the solution and put empirical backing behind it.

“It’s one thing to ask an athlete, ‘how can we get you to perform at your peak?’ It’s another thing to say you’re also a person outside of sports and I want to help you succeed at being a person beyond your sport,” Cohen-Young said. “As athletes, we get consumed in that identity. Whatever the sport is, athletes want to be the best at that and that consumes them. When they go home at night, they’re still a person. We would be doing them a disservice to only focus on their sports performance and not focus on their entire being.”

That athlete mentality of wanting to be the best inspired her to continue her education, this time at the CoSW.

“I wanted to take it up a notch and I wanted to have a bigger voice at the table. I wanted to make even more of a difference in the spaces that I operate in,” Cohen-Young said. “For me, it’s about being the best of the best. I did some research and found the DSW program at UK and knew this was the one. If I want to be amongst the best, I have to do it here.”

Cohen-Young presented her DSW capstone project titled “Preseason Isn’t Just for Conditioning: An Interprofessional Approach to Assessing Collegiate Student-Athlete Mental Health” at the 2024 Showcase of DSW Scholars.

This research is focused on the assessment of student-athletes’ mental health throughout their careers, not just at the beginning of the season at their preseason physical. Specifically, Cohen-Young’s research is looking at the assessment process and the empirical backing of the assessment.

Recently, research was released that suicide is the second-leading cause of death in student-athletes. These assessments will be key in preventing mental health crises and help professionals intervene and provide support for student-athletes.  

“As athletes, we always want to perform, but behind closed doors is when it can get heavy. If athletes aren’t feeling supported, that’s when the crisis arises, and we have to be mindful of the sports culture that these athletes are performing within. We must take a proactive stance in how we are assessing and making sure athletes have resources available,” Cohen-Young said.

Following Cohen-Young’s graduation from the CoSW, she looks to continue to make an impact in the lives of athletes with her first-hand experience and now, a Doctorate of Social Work from the University of Kentucky.

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For 85 years, the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) has been a leader in social work education. As a college, we promote community and individual well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital community engagement. We are committed to the people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world. Like the University, CoSW is an organization that cultivates a diverse academic community characterized by interpersonal fairness and social justice. We are fiercely committed to developing outstanding social work professionals — leaders who will serve individuals, families, and communities through innovative and effective practices that are guided by cultural competency, systematic ethical analysis, and a keen and pragmatic understanding of the human condition.